Jan 16, 2013, 12:20 PM EST
Every day until the season starts we’ll explore an intriguing storyline for the upcoming year.
Last April, Florida’s gain was Toronto’s pain.
When the Panthers clinched a playoff spot on Apr. 5, they snapped the NHL’s longest postseason drought — 12 years — and passed that depressing mantle onto the Leafs.
It’s been seven years since the Leafs last made the playoffs. The last time they did it, in 2003-04, the roster included the likes of Mats Sundin, Joe Nieuwendyk, Ron Francis, Ed Belfour and Brian Leetch.
All five of those guys are now in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
So yeah, long time.
For one of the league’s most storied franchises — one recently fired GM Brian Burke called the “crown jewel” and “Vatican” of the NHL — that stretch of futility is unacceptable.
Which brings us to the question at hand:
Will the futility end this season?
If the early parts of training camp were any indication, there’s not a lot of optimism.
Toronto began the campaign in the most dysfunctional way imaginable — by firing Burke, the club’s outspoken architect.
His dismissal went down almost exactly as many figured it would, with a hailstorm of controversy, sound bites and unanswered questions as to why owners decided to turf the GM eight days prior to the start of a condensed regular season.
That hasn’t been the only distraction in Leaf land, either.
The goaltending situation — the bane of Burke’s four-year existence — is as convoluted as ever. Talks of an impending Roberto Luongo acquisition continue to swirl and, should that trade never come to fruition, there’s debate over which in-house candidate would be No. 1.
Former No. 1 James Reimer should be the starter by default, but he hasn’t played a competitive game since March 2011. He’s also looked shaky in camp and could be surpassed by Ben Scrivens, who has been playing frequently in the AHL and, according to CBC’s Glen Healy, looks like a confident goalie.
“Just looking at Scrivens’s body language, he seems to have a lot of swagger,” said Healy. “The biggest thing for goaltenders is that six inches between your ears — that belief that you can accomplish what you want to accomplish. That you can do it. That you’ve got confidence.
“His emergence into [the NHL] game could not be better timed, with the lockout ending and a lot of other players not playing.”
As for other personnel, the Leafs didn’t upgrade much from a roster that finished 13th in the Eastern Conference a year ago.
James van Riemsdyk came aboard (at the expense of losing Luke Schenn) and checking center Jay McClement was signed in free agency. Morgan Rielly, the fifth overall pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, could challenge for a roster spot, but is only 18 years old.
Which means Toronto might be seeking improvement from within.
To that end, the Leafs should have some optimism. One of the biggest disappointments from last year was Nikolai Kulemin, who saw his goal production decrease from 30 in 2010-11 to seven in 2011-12.
The 30-year-old Russian was active during the lockout, playing with Magnitogorsk of the KHL, racking up 38 points in 36 games.
But really, improvement has to come across the board. The only way the Leafs are going to make the playoffs is if everything about the team gets better, something head coach Randy Carlyle acknowledges.
“I’ve left the message with the players in departing last year that we were not competitive enough in all three zones,” Carlyle explained. “We have to be prepared to go — if you want to call it war in some situations, so be it — we want to be able to compete night in, night out, for every puck, every faceoff.
“That’s the message that’s been delivered. That’s the type of style we’re expected to play.”
For all the PHT Pressing Questions, click here.
Nov 28, 2014, 2:45 PM EST
Not bad for a little guy who wasn’t even drafted.
Nov 28, 2014, 2:39 PM EST
News and notes from around the crease…
Nov 28, 2014, 1:50 PM EST
Veteran d-man will be parked in the press box in Buffalo tonight.
Nov 28, 2014, 1:36 PM EST
Minnesota’s in Dallas tonight.
Nov 28, 2014, 1:08 PM EST
Semyon Varlamov was brilliant last season, but not so much this season.
Nov 28, 2014, 12:08 PM EST
Rivals meet for the second time this season.
Nov 28, 2014, 11:37 AM EST
“And I say that with all due respect to the players we have.”
Nov 28, 2014, 11:35 AM EST
Nov 28, 2014, 11:22 AM EST
After missing the last 11 games with a separated shoulder.
Nov 28, 2014, 11:19 AM EST
“Need a little more traffic, need second efforts.”
Nov 28, 2014, 11:01 AM EST
Former King, Devil and ‘Cane joins HC Lokomotiv.
Nov 28, 2014, 10:45 AM EST
Eat some leftovers and watch some quality afternoon hockey.
Nov 28, 2014, 9:50 AM EST
He could return in about a week if things progress well.
Nov 28, 2014, 8:59 AM EST
Some numbers behind Nashville’s hot start.
Nov 28, 2014, 8:14 AM EST
Friday’s list of link savings.
Nov 28, 2014, 1:35 AM EST
Has appeared in five games with Chicago this season.
Nov 28, 2014, 12:15 AM EST
Forsberg scores the OT winner.
Nov 27, 2014, 10:50 PM EST
Shea Weber covered the puck in the crease.
Nov 27, 2014, 10:35 PM EST
Flyers play host to the Rangers Friday afternoon.
Nov 27, 2014, 9:30 PM EST
Was a healthy scratch in nine games.
- Video: Martin St. Louis scores goal for 1,000th point 0
- Actual video proof that Brodeur is practicing with the Blues 2
- Return of the Mac: Rangers captain McDonagh in today vs. Flyers 2
- NHL on NBC: Rangers vs. Flyers in a Thanksgiving Showdown 2
- Garbutt suspended two games for ‘reckless’ knee-on-knee hit 1
- Report: Justin Schultz to be healthy scratch versus Preds 27
- PHT shares #WhyImThankful 8
- Roy: ‘They got away with things that we could not’ 18
- Video: Panthers’ Luongo leaves game due to injury (Updated) 0
- Video: Jets’ Lowry hits Sabres’ Kaleta from behind 6
- Video: Milan Lucic calls Dalton Prout one-punch ‘gutless’ (101)
- Prout drops Lucic: ‘As far as I was concerned we were engaged in a fight’ (88)
- The Leafs didn’t salute their fans last night, so that’s a thing now (79)
- Bruins’ Lucic expected to play against Habs after getting one-punched (Updated) (47)
- Video: Prout drops Lucic with one punch (46)